Louella's Boys- Elton
"Si! Wake up! You'll be late!" I hollered, mixing the batter for my famous fluffy pancakes. "Joe! You too! High School's waiting!"
I know. Joe is in High School. He's fourteen. And almost two heads taller than me. Two years ago he'd yielded the paper rout to Si, who's eleven, and growing taller everyday.
"Ma? Where are my stockings? I can't find them!"
"I set them on your dresser under your suspenders. Open your eyes!"
As soon as the first stack of pancakes were finished with strawberry preserves, Si came running down the staircase holding his shoes in his hand and hat crooked on his head. Si's hair was still stick-straight inky-black, and stuck out at odd angles just like it had the first day I met him.
"Joe!" I called for the sixth time that morning.
"Hey Mama," Si said, dropping his shoes next to his chair. "Don't worry. Joe's coming." And with that he proceeded to eat heaping mouthfuls of pancakes and milk.
"Now you remember to speak to Mr. Webb about the paper route- he told me it's changed. And we're going to visit your Papa tomorrow, so make sure to stop by Mrs. Gibbs' house. She always likes to give you a bloom or two."
"Yes, Mama, I won't forget."
Joe came crashing downstairs, jumping the last two steps. He too was carrying his shoes but his shirt was unbuttoned and his hat was nowhere to be found.
"Joe, how many times have I told you to be careful on the staircase? One day you'll fall and hurt yourself. Now sit down and eat your breakfast."
"Morning Ma," Joe replied, ignoring my reprimand, kissing my cheek, and sitting down to eat pancakes.
"Joe," I warned, and he slowed down. Years had gone by and he's grown so much, but he still eats like a ravenous wolf. I am always transported back to that first evening when I tell him to slow down. Some things haven't changed.
"Ma, Joe has to go now," Si piped up, and a look shot between the two boys.
"And why would that be, Joe?" I asked, drying my hands with the dishcloth on my apron and turning to look at the two boys, Joe particularly. The poor boy turned a sunburnt red, mumbling something entirely unintelligible. "What?"
"He promised Rebecca Gibbs he would walk her to school," Si explained again, and Joe shoved him.
"Joe! Not at the table," I said. "Put on your shoes and button your shirt. I won't let you leave without that."
"Okay," Joe said, finally speaking. After he had collected himself and picked up his book strap, he stopped at the doorway.
"Joe?" I called, and he looked back at me. "Make sure you offer to carry her books."
"I will," Joe replied, smiling brightly.
Shortly after Joe's departure, Si ran out the door, messenger bag flapping as he ran.
I put on my shoes and went into the backyard with my pruning shears. I found two full-bloom tulips from my garden. Mr. Soames always like them, so I put my shears in the house and set off for the cemetery hill. It was the first Friday of April, and I was going to visit him.
When I reached the hill, there wasn't a living soul in sight, not even Mr. Stoddard the undertaker. I walked down Avenue E, past the Craigs and the Walkers and toward where the Soames were buried.
His stone was simple. It had his name and when he was born and died, and some magnolia blossoms etched near the side. He always said he loved magnolias- they were the prettiest flowers. He said I was his very own magnolia.
"Hello Elton," I said, placing a tulip next to the stone. "It's the first Friday of April. Did you miss me?" I laughed. "I reckon not. You've probably forgotten about us. But it's April and the cottonwoods are blooming. I knew you always like that. Si and Joe are growing taller everyday. I know that you didn't spend very much time with them, but you would like them. Joe is so smart. I'm sure he'll go to a wonderful university, just like you did."
I smiled. "I don't know if you can hear me. I feel silly sometimes, visiting you and telling you about my life. But then sometimes in the middle of the month I'm glad I'll visit you soon. I know you and I were never particularly close, no more than companions, but I feel like you understood more about my life than others in Grover's Corners. You knew about Joshua and Adam and Joe and Si and never judged me. And I'm glad you found me. You picked me up out of Bridgewater and away from all that sadness. I swear if I'd lived another month down there, I don't know what I would have done. You saved me."
I heard footsteps crunching up the hill, and I looked around. No one. "Thanks for everything, Elton. I miss you." I set the other tulip next to his grave and looked around again for anybody. Still no one.
"Hello?" I called. There was no one around. The wind picked up, brushing the wisps of my hair away from my face.
My throat caught. The wind felt just like Elton's hand when he would push a strand of hair from my cheek.
I couldn't understand my own memory at that moment. I would have thought I would be transported to a memory of Elton, but I wasn't. I was transported to a day under the cherry tree with Adam. School had just gotten out, and it was sunny and breezy.
"Hey Louella," he called from his group of friends. I was walking with Mary Ellen and Beth Piper from class, schoolbooks clutched to our chests as we discussed Pride and Prejudice.
"Hey Adam," I said meandering toward him.
"Can I talk to you for a moment? It's about our maths homework," he grinned, and winked. My heart spasmed, and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed. If they did, they kept it to themselves.
"Sure. Mary Ellen, don't wait. Just tell my Ma I'll be along a little later," I told my best friend, who nodded in the way that showed me she had seen the look between the tow of us and she was reserving her judgment for later.
"Go ahead, Mike, James," Adam said, and the boys whistled in an unattractive manner before heading off.
I was watching out friends go so I was surprised when his hand folded itself into mine. I wanted to live in this moment forever. Never let him go.
"So hello Louella," Adam said, softer and sweeter this time.
"Hello," I replied. He replaced a warm kiss on my cheek.
"I was thinking of speaking to your father, but I wanted to ask you first," he started, and tears began to flow out of my eyes.
I loved him so much, but he couldn't possibly mean that. Adam was so perfect and better than me that he would never ask me that.
"Yes?" I nudged.
"Miss Louella James," he started. "I believe you are the kindest and most loving person I know. And I was thinking the other day what I would be doing in a few years. Helping my father run the grocery, of course, but every image of my house had you in it, singing those beautiful songs and cooking delicious pies and giving me a kiss every morning and evening-" He paused, and smiled. "Any future I could possibly imagine has to have you in it. I wanted to ask you if you would consider becoming my wife."
In the memory my face broke into an enormous smile as I dropped my books and wrapped my arms around his neck, twisting my fingers in his curly coffee-colored hair. I kissed him long and sweet, and when I opened my eyes to look at him all I could manage to say was "yes".
On the cemetery hill, however, I cried. Big long salty streaks ran wheel tracks down my cheeks, because I knew. I knew Adam was gone now. Gone for so long that he was a part of me. The part laying with Joshua in North Carolina.
The big hacking sobs that shook my body slowed as I walked back towards town, until barely a whimper by reaching Main Street. I walked slowly down Main Street, willing my memory not to turn to Joshua. But even I couldn't overpower his memory.
I was thrown back to walking down Main Street in Bridgewater, Joshua clutching my hand. His bright eyes sparkled in the Southern sun as he giggled at some impression Adam had done before he went to the grocery store to open up.
"Daddy makes a silly duck," Joshua smiled, and I attempted a grin. Last night had been frightening.
Mr. Cleary, Adam's father, had cotton worse. He was wasting away, fever high and mind slowly fading. When Adam and I visited him, Mr. Cleary didn't recognize him. He kept calling him "Lucas, Lucas, Lucas", not Adam. And my sunny laughing Adam disappeared under a thick layer of grief. He left the house around eight and returned at ten with a bottle in hand, angry.
Angry at life, angry at the cosmos, angry that such a thing could happen to his dear, sweet Papa. He kicked a hole in the sitting room wall and I yelled at him to stop, please stop. While he was yelling how it wasn't fair, that life wasn't fair, he turned on me, fire in his eyes. But when he raised his hand, his face went blank, and he dropped to his knees, starting to cry.
I had cradled his head to my chest as he cried, tears hitting my face too.
"Yes dear, he does," I told Joshua.
My baby never knew what Adam went through. He was gone too soon to be shattered from blissful ignorance.
I returned to reality when I saw Joshua down the street. But no, it was Joe with Rebecca Gibbs. He was carrying her books and holding her hand. My sweet Joe, growing up. Joe was like Joshua sometimes, but sometimes he was very different. Because he grew up. Here he was, fourteen years old, holding a girl's books and hand just like Adam did for me.
I tried to think I wasn't eavesdropping or sneaking around as I followed the pair down the street.
"You look very nice in that gingham dress," Joe told her.
"Oh, well I always thought I looked silly in it when I was younger," Rebecca replied.
"Oh, no. You look very pretty," Joe assured her, to which Rebecca surely blushed.
"Well, this is my house," Rebecca said, stopping. "Thank you for walking with me. Could we walk home together tomorrow?" I grinned. I could see Joe break into a smile.
"I would like that."
"Okay. See you," Rebecca said, taking her books. She paused at the gate, then turned and kissed Joe's cheek before going inside.
Joe just stood there, dumbfounded. Hand on the cheek she had kissed moments before.
I had to laugh at how he was growing up before my eyes, but I couldn't say I didn't expect it. Ever since he talked about Rebecca wanting to play baseball, I knew he was a goner. He always liked spunk.
I hurried home to make sure I was there before Joe, putting on my apron and starting a casserole. When Joe finally reached home, his hand was still on his cheek and he was tugging at his hat.
"How was school, sweetheart?" I asked. Joe didn't seem to notice I had spoken, only took off his shoes and sat at the table.
What its like to be first in love, I thought, even if Joe didn't know it himself yet. When you're like a person sleepwalking and you didn't quite see the street you were walking on, and you didn't quite hear everything that was said to you.
I thought about all of them. Those boys I loved. Adam and Joshua in the grave in North Carolina, and Elton in the grave here. Si on his first year of the paper route, growing tall and funny. And Joe, sweet and serious, who's falling in love, experiencing the teenage growing pains. All five of them having some grand adventure, with me watching and cheering them on.
(A/N): Thanks for reading. Last chapter is next, a story of Louella in death as she deals with that and watches the rest of her boys keep growing.