Title: The Missing Spark (working title)
Author: Island Hopper
Summary: As an adult, Calvin had lived his life on his own terms, following his own rules. Now with the death of his father, he is called back to his childhood home once more to face his demons and reconnect with old friends who have been waiting patiently for his return – even ones that aren't human. In progress.
Author's Notes: This story deals with some adult themes and contains adult language, and the story is rated to reflect this. If these things are not to your taste, please hit the back button. A new chapter will be added to this story every week (hopefully). Hobbes will show up a little later in the story.
A fly lazily buzzed somewhere near the window, taking its time in assessing a good landing spot for itself. The dog lying on a red flannel dog bed in the corner watched it just as lazily, panting quietly, but otherwise not moving. A woman sat motionless on the couch, her hands clasped in her lap, legs tightly drawn together, staring at the floor, lost in her thoughts. Time had stopped. Even the sun in the sky couldn't seem to decide whether or not to glide under the horizon or to stay put, instead seeming content to simply radiate the kind of languid evening twilight that breeds contemplative thoughts about the nature of the world and all who live in it.
Or used to.
The woman on the couch heaved a shaky sigh and gripped the wet Kleenex in her fist tightly. As if bracing herself for a monumental task, she closed her eyes, exhaled slowly, and stood. The dog's ears perked hopefully. The woman managed a weak laugh.
"Not yet, Apollo," she told him softly. "Give me a few minutes."
She treaded soundlessly to the hall bathroom and turned on the faucet, letting the cool water pool in the bottom of the sink. After a moment, she cupped her hands and dipped them into the water, leaned over, and splashed her face repeatedly, as though she could erase both the tears and the sorrow from her face. Grabbing a towel, she held it to her face for a few seconds, then took another deep breath. Apollo stood patiently at her feet, wagging his tail ever so slightly. She gave him a small smile.
"It's just you and me now, Olly," she whispered.
The door bell rang suddenly, tearing her from her thoughts. She wiped her face once more with the towel and inhaled deeply. That's how life was going to be from now on: just a series of deep breaths.
"Coming!" she called as she made her way to the front door. The concerned face of a young woman appeared across the threshold as the woman opened the door.
"Mrs. Haddock, I just heard the news about a half hour ago," the young woman said, a worried expression playing across her features. "I can understand if you don't want company right now. But I thought at least you shouldn't have to go without dinner."
Abby Haddock smiled as she caught sight of the bundle being offered to her by the young woman in front of her. "Thank you, Susie. Why don't you come in for a few minutes?"
"I don't want to interrupt – "
"It's fine. I'm not sure I want to be alone right now anyway," Abby answered as she opened the door enough to let Susie inside. Susie came inside gratefully and both women headed for the kitchen, where Abby took two glasses out of the cupboard and filled them with water. Susie took two plates and silverware out to the kitchen table and laid out the food she'd brought. Neither of them spoke until they were both seated and had served themselves from the roast beef and green beans on the platter.
"The doctors said he wouldn't have felt a thing," Abby said quickly, simply needing to tell someone those words, as if to reassure herself as well. "He wouldn't have even known what was happening."
"That's always been such a terrible intersection anyway," Susie affirmed just as quickly. "People come racing out of those business complexes, and most of them are on their cell phones and aren't paying attention."
"It was a delivery truck," Abby said, stabbing several green beans aggressively with her fork. "The kind that delivers office supplies. It wasn't entirely the driver's fault. His brakes were wet from that rain storm this morning and he didn't realize that he hadn't allowed them enough time to dry off before leaving for his rounds. It was an accident." Abby swallowed hard. "It was an accident," she repeated, tears beginning to prick her eyelids again. "It – It could have happened to anyone, really, David was just in the wrong place at the wrong – at the wrong – "
Susie laid a hand on Abby's back as the sobs started again.
"I told him to retire last year when he had the chance, goddammit," Abby wept, holding her napkin to her face. "I told him. It wasn't as though we didn't have plans, Susie. We had things we were going to do. We were going to travel, we were going to learn to scuba dive, he was going to enter some cycling races for over-50's, we were – we had so many plans. So many things we wanted to do yet." She buried her face in her hands. "But he didn't want to leave last year, that goddamn stubborn…" she trailed off, shaking her head. "If it could have happened to anyone, why the hell did it have to happen to him?"
Susie bit her lip, tears also welling up in her eyes. She had grown up in the house next door, after all, and had known Abby and David Haddock, and their son Calvin, her entire life. Even though she couldn't claim to have been close to David, the suddenness of his passing was enough to skew her universe ever so slightly. "Mrs. Haddock, I'm so sorry. Really, I'm so sorry, I can't imagine – is…is there anything I can do?"
Abby sniffed, drying her eyes and cheeks with the napkin. "One thing, Susie."
"What is it?"
"The secretary desk there in the corner. Top drawer. Black address book. Inside you'll find a little scrap of paper with Calvin's number. I haven't…I haven't talked to him yet. I've been in the hospital all day filling out papers, talking to doctors and chaplains, and anyway, I wouldn't be able to remember that number if my life depended on it."
Susie found a receipt with "Calvin" scribbled on the back followed by a very long number. Her eyes bulged slightly. "I forgot how long these international telephone numbers are. Where is Calvin these days?"
"Floating somewhere in French Polynesia," Abby said with a small smile. "His company sent him there about a year ago, and told him to visit every island for a new book about French Polynesia they're putting together. I know he likes it, because I almost never hear from him. Not that he calls home all that often anyway, but when he hates his assignment, we seem to get more telephone calls from him simply because he needs someone to complain to."
"He still works for the travel book company, then?" Susie said, sitting down on the edge of the sofa.
"Among other things," Abby said, beginning to gather the plates up, knowing that neither of them felt much like eating that night. "He still writes for a few political magazines now and then, but it's hard to stay in the loop when you're out of the country almost all of the time."
"Calvin seems to have done all right for himself," Susie said, gazing once again down at the number.
"I suppose so. But peaking purely as his mother, I wish he'd find something a little more…stable," Abby said, drying the last of the tears from her eyes. "I haven't seen him in so long that the only time I see a recent picture of him is whenever he happens to have one taken for something he's written. But that life seems to suit him, somehow. He always did have a touch of wanderlust in him, always charting off for unknown places, even when he was a kid and he didn't get any farther than the woods." She smiled. "We haven't always gotten along, but I've always missed him when he's been gone."
"I'll finish up the dishes and put the food in the fridge if you'd like, Mrs. Haddock."
"Abby. Call me Abby," Abby said with a gentle firmness to her voice. "You're thirty-three, Susie. You have a right to call me by my first name."
"All right…Abby. And then I'll be going. I know you'll want to talk to Calvin alone."
Abby sighed. "I doubt I'll hear from him tonight. This is the number for the publisher's international office somewhere in Tahiti. They'll get in touch with him, wherever he is. But if I know my son, he'll be somewhere inaccessible to anyone in their right mind. It might be days before I hear from him."
Susie smiled and wiped her hands on a napkin. "All the same, I think I'll get going. Would you like me to check in on you tomorrow?"
"Good Lord, Susie, I'm not going to turn into a little old widow lady quite so soon," Abby laughed. "I'll be fine. I've got so much to do now, so much to sort out and plan. But I appreciate the offer, and you're welcome anytime." She shifted a little uncomfortably. "How is your mother, Susie? I'm so sorry I haven't been over to visit lately."
"She's…doing as well as can be expected, thank you," Susie said with a slightly strained look on her face. Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Susie was in high school, and had been in a steadily declining state of health ever since. The disease had begun to advance rapidly in the past few years for a reason the doctors couldn't fathom, and it had reached a point two years ago when Susie, an only child, had been faced with the decision to either put her mother in a nursing home at the ripe old age of 58 or to care for her at home. Susie had picked the only option she felt she could live with: she left her lucrative psychology practice and moved home to care for her mother until the bitter end. Which, unfortunately, seemed as though it would be sooner rather than later.
Soon, Calvin wouldn't be the only one missing a parent.
Susie shook herself from her reverie and smiled at Abby. "Well, if you need anything, you know where I am. Stop by or give me a call."
"I can't thank you enough, Susie," Abby said as she embraced the woman who had, in the past two years, become a close friend. "Let's have coffee later this week, all right?"
"Sounds great. And remember, please don't hesitate to call anytime, all right?"
A few moments after Susie left, Abby sat down on the sofa next to the phone and stared at Calvin's number on the back of the receipt. She tried to come up with something to say to him when she finally got ahold of him, but she couldn't find any words. How do you tell your son that his father is dead? How do you lessen that blow? Even though Calvin hadn't seen his father in close to five years, it was still his father, wasn't it? They had had many spectacular falling-outs over the years, but a son only has one father; how do you tell him that his one father is gone, and never coming back?
Abby sighed and picked up the phone, praying that the words would come more easily, more naturally, if she heard her son's voice on the other end of the line. It was time to call Calvin home from the outdoors one more time.