The hot sun beat down on Martin Luther’s head, exacerbating the heat already generated by the stiff mortar board he wore. He stood patiently by the rose trellis his mother had planted soon after their house had been built while February cooed and fawned over him, snapping picture after picture of him in his cumbersome graduation gown.
In the months following January’s death, the remaining members of the Callender family had each tried in their own way to knit themselves back together, with varying degrees of success. In spite of her resolution, February had not managed to break things off with Cameron after all. Cameron seemed so different to her now, though still the same handsome guy she’d danced the night away with at Prom. As they’d talked and caught up the day after January’s unexpected passing, February came to discover that, although she did have feelings for Hector, she still cared for Cameron as well. Martin Luther, on the other hand, had been forced to cool his romance with Tam down a bit after his eighteenth birthday, as Legacy Town kept strict regulations regarding teen-adult relationships. Ever rebellious, Tam had initially balked at Martin Luther’s adherence to Legacy Town laws, but when Martin Luther’s resolve remained firm, Tam had reluctantly followed suit as well.
Meanwhile, Connor, never having been one for familial bonding in the first place, seemed to withdraw even deeper within himself after losing January. Connor had been alone with his wife at the time of her unexpected death, so it had fallen to him to tell both of his children the grim news. Afterward, he had retreated into a deep, impenetrable silence, leaving February and Martin Luther to deal with all of the details surrounding putting January to rest. Bewildered by all of the responsibility, February had elected to quietly have January cremated; Connor kept her remains in a small, plain box in their bedroom, which he rarely vacated. Connor’s total disengagement terrified February, as much for Martin Luther’s sake as for her own. As kids, Martin Luther had always been the one to seek out his big sister while she had always shunned him; now, guilt-ridden, February attempted to be both mother and father to her younger brother.
In actuality, Martin Luther was truly fine. While Connor grieved for his wife and February mourned the loss of any opportunity to forge much-needed connections with her mother, Martin Luther had concluded long before January’s actual death that his mother was absent from his life. While January’s physical disappearance seemed to matter much less to Martin Luther than it did for Connor or February, Martin Luther recognized his sister’s gestures toward him and appreciated her concern.
“It’s kind of nice, to have family,” he thought idly as he landed a gorgeous rainbow trout several weeks after his graduation ceremony. He’d taken up fishing soon after his eighteenth birthday as a distraction from Tam, whose physical demands had started becoming more…demanding. Although Tam had gotten much better about the hands-off approach more recently, Martin Luther found that he still enjoyed the peaceful solitude he could find when casting a reel and pulling in various forms of aquatic life. It was nice to have family, but it was also nice to get away from them occasionally. February was being almost too nice to him and his dad lately. It was as if she were trying to cram about eighteen years’ worth of solicitude and family bonding time into a few months. Martin Luther didn’t quite have the heart to just ignore her, as Connor was wont to do, but neither could he simply wake up one day and pretend they were all one happy family. Luckily, February had been seeing more of Cameron again, and, between him and Hector, February hadn’t quite managed to smother her father and brother to death — yet, anyway.
“Still,“ Martin Luther considered as he gently released the trout back into its pond, “at least she’s trying…which is certainly more than I can say for that little traitor Marie. Maybe I should help her out…she can’t get through to Dad, but maybe Uncle Jared can.” Martin Luther knew that Connor and his brother had once been close, but, after Connor’s marriage to January, Connor had become something of a recluse and the relationship between the brothers had suffered. Connor hadn’t spoken to Jared for years, and Martin Luther was sure he’d never actually met his uncle. Seeing no real reason to begin letting little things like common social formalities stop him now, Martin Luther gamely made his way across town to the small house that Jared lived in.
Darkness had nearly fallen by the time Martin Luther returned home. February and Cameron had apparently just come in from the water slide and were standing at the kitchen table in their bathing suits, flirting and dripping all over the floor.
Martin Luther paid them no mind as he crossed the house to the bedroom his parents had shared. Cameron had grown up quite a bit since that long-ago day that Martin Luther had accosted him from the safety of his tree house, and Martin Luther was glad to see his sister happy; nevertheless, he remained convinced that Cameron was still a stranger with no possibility of becoming a permanent fixture in the Callender home. Gingerly, he knocked on his parents’ bedroom door before opening it to face his father. Connor sat very still on the edge of the bed he’d shared with January for so many years. The furniture now seemed too big for his slight frame. He raised his eyes slowly, barely acknowledging his son’s presence.
“Hey Dad. I just came in to say that I visited Uncle Jared today. You know, he’s not heavy. He’s your brother,” Martin Luther announced. His abrupt statement earned him a raised eyebrow from Connor but little else. “So anyway,” Martin Luther continued, unfazed, “He’s hardly a stranger in the night. But nothing lasts forever, especially candles and rain. Everyone eventually spreads their broken wings and flies away, but before that, you have to lift your sunken eyes so you can see. Got it?” Before Connor had a chance to answer, Martin Luther had closed the door, leaving his father alone with his thoughts and memories once more.
For long moments, Connor remained still, staring at the wall and contemplating Martin Luther’s words. Regrets…he had so many of them. His son was a very strange boy, but Connor knew that he had a good heart. February…she was so much like her father, always content to be alone, always unsure of what her next step should be. He knew that he had failed them both in many ways, but they, at least, had had the benefit of his physical presence. He didn’t know their older half-siblings at all. He had left his first wife, Janis, while their daughter Delilah was still only a toddler. He’d never bothered to look back. Harrison, his son with his ex-girlfriend Diana, had hardly fared better; he used to come around from time to time as a child, but eventually had given up on Connor and moved on with his life. Why had Connor let them go? Why had he allowed everyone he loved to slip away?
Suddenly he rose from the bed, an unfamiliar firmness fixing his chin. “Why am I just sitting here moping about the past?” he thought. “The past is over and done with…but I’m still here. My kids are still here. My brother is still here…but Martin Luther is right. He won’t be around forever. None of us will be. It’s time to start fixing things…it’s time to go visit Jared. Right now. Well…” Connor’s gaze fell upon the darkened window pane that divided his room from the night that had long since settled in. The hour had grown much later than he’d realized. “First thing tomorrow morning,” he amended, and settled back onto his mattress with a sigh to wait for another long, sleepless night to slowly pass.