"This is home," Gavin said softly to the two children standing at either side of him one early June morning, staring in awe at the richly endowed property around them. He settled a hand on Ethan's shoulder until disgust pinched the boy's face and he shrugged it off. Abby glanced at her brother, reached for his hand, and meandered with him up to the house. Several rows of poppies, daisies, and marigolds grew at the front of the house, and they drew her attention until she stopped.
"My middle name is Daisy," she said, pausing to gaze at them a moment before suddenly glanced down at the artfully papered shoebox under her arm. Gavin had asked if he could assist her with the luggage earlier and she had declined, apparently forgetting its purpose. "By the way, our Mom wanted me to give this to you." He eased it out from under her arm, and the children returned their attention to the small cottage.
The cherry wood floors creaked as the children stepped inside. The walls were cream colored, as was the sofa that sat before the fireplace against the left wall. Beside this was a crimson recliner, and a coffee table sat between the chairs and the fireplace. A grandfather clock ticked ominously against the same wall to the right. There was also an oil painting of a ewe in a pasture hanging ahead, and a painting of a gray mare and a bay gelding on the wall behind, beside which was a small round table with a single chair on a cream-colored rug.
"The kitchen is to the right, and straight through this door ahead, we have a horizontal hall and a vertical hall," he began to chuckle and wagged his head. "My grandfather watched this cottage burn to the ground when he was young, and he made every effort to ensure there would always be a door to escape through."
His children paid him no mind, but he assumed they would be listening if the hoped to find their way around the house. So he continued across the room and opened the door at the head of the room.
"Down the right," he said as they stepped into the horizontal hall, a narrow passage with bare cherry wood walls, "is a door beneath that stained glass window. There is also a closet and a utility room along the way. Another door is to the left, and a door to my study and my room along that way."
The children shifted their eyes each way as he pointed, which confirmed that they were listening.
"Down this vertical hall is a bathroom to the right, and my bedroom is to the left. After the bathroom is your bedroom, and at the very end is the back door. Why don't you take a peek into your room?"
Ethan and Abby came to the doorway and peered into their room, examining every detail. The walls were alternating sky blue and chocolate brown, with dense coffee colored drapes covering the two small windows along the wall. A separated bunk created two beds—one protruding beside the window at the back of the room on the left, and one protruding from the near side to their right. The open door at the opposite wall revealed a room with what appeared to be a pair of bean bag chairs and desks. They glanced at one another and moved to set their suitcases on the wooden floors with a creak.
"I know it's not what you're used to, but I did me best. Come to the table when you are ready, and we'll eat," Gavin smiled wanly and disappeared down the hall. Although he was determined to be steady for his children, the idea of raising a pair of strangers was brimming with the potential to be either amazing or awful, and the solemn expressions he had received that morning were not promising.
. . .
The June afternoon was pleasant as can be, with the robins singing to one another and the warm sun shining its blessing upon Gavin as he drove a spade into the ground and dragged it backward until he was a good fifteen feet away. He then carved a second and third row to ensure there would be enough to feed his family and perhaps some left over to sell. After a smile of approval toward his work so far, he reached for a packet of corn kernels and straddled the first row, dropping each into its place as he backed down the line. Perhaps his children would one day sow and plant alongside him.
As he worked, a curious Buff Orpington approached the crevasse with a surprised cluck. She suddenly darted forward, plucked a kernel out, and scurried away with Gavin chasing after her. "Elizabeth! I should have kept you all cooped today."
Soon reassured the chickens were elsewhere on the property, he returned to his task until each row was loaded with kernels and covered in soil. The sun was well across the sky now, and when he squinted up at it, he determined it to be close to noon. He must sow the carrots later if he had any desire to eat.
But before he returned inside to prepare a meal, he reached for the basket he had carried with him outside earlier that morning and came around to the side of the house where a bed of strawberries lay beside the vegetable garden. He knelt beside the plants and began gently plucking the ripe fruits and settling them into the basket. They seemed to be sparse this year, as he studied the occasional reds peeking from the greens. But there would be enough to sustain them.
By the time he set the basket on the kitchen counter, curiosity about his children prodded his mind. He began rinsing the fruits and setting them on a clean towel when he sensed two pairs of eyes peering through the door at him. He threw a glance their way and smiled. "You have nice timing. I was just going to make something to eat and start some tea."
"We're not hungry," Abby said plainly.
Gavin considered her statement with pursed lips. When he rinsed the last strawberry and set it on the towel, he turned and leaned against the counter. "You're not going to feel very well if you don't eat today. At least eat some of these fresh strawberries here to keep your strength up."
Ethan and Abby exchanged glanced and shrugged before the emerged from the hall. They made their way to the kitchen table and examined the bowl of fruit. Ethan chose an apple while Abby reached for an orange. Gavin studied them solemnly and silently asked God what to do.
"Why pull out those chairs and we can talk some?"
"We don't want to talk with you," said Abby as she and Ethan made their way back to the hall with averted eyes. "You can't tell us what to do."
"Wait a second," Gavin protested with surprise. "I am your father, and that gives me every right to tell you what to do. I asked you kindly to sit at the kitchen table, and now I will tell you to sit down."
Abby spun around and hurtled her orange at his stomach with tears streaming down her cheeks. "No! You are not allowed to tell us what to do! So just leave us alone, all right?"
Gavin snatched the orange from the wooden floors and was at once standing before the children, bent so that he could meet their eyes. He presented the orange to his daughter once more, but the anger in his voice sounded almost menacing. "You are not to throw perfectly good fruit when there are people in the world lucky to see one of these oranges in a week. You will take your fruits to your room and eat them before you come out again. Do you hear me?"
Silent tears streamed down Abby's cheeks. She and Ethan spun around and rushed back to their room, slamming the door behind them. Gavin closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the doorframe beside him. What should I have done in that situation, Lord? I lost me temper.
Without a chance of spending any more time with his children that day, he decided he might as well return outside to sow the carrots after his meal of tea with champ and soda bread. He washed a handful of potatoes in silence and placed them into a pot, adding water which he allowed to boil. As he waited, he leaned the heels of his hands on the sink and released a sigh, hanging his head.
They already hate me, Lord.
"What makes him say he can show up in our lives, make us live with him, and start ordering us around all the time?" Ethan ranted as he stormed through the bedroom door ahead of his sister and threw himself upon his bed. Abby seated herself beside him, staring at her orange, until they listened to the kitchen door slam shut. She slid from the bed and sneaked through the play room adjoined to their to the side window.
"I hate that man so much!" Ethan snapped again from their room. "Mom is the one who raised us, so she can tell us what to do. But not that man."
Abby peeled her orange wordlessly and began to pull apart the wedges. She hated to do exactly what her father asked, but when he mentioned all the people that rarely saw an orange, she couldn't bear to waste it. She popped the first wedge in her mouth and chewed silently, staring out the window at her father as he strode toward the vegetable garden at the right side of the house with a packet of seeds poking out of his back pocket.
"Let's get our stuff out and make the room more fun," she said suddenly, twisting away from the window to see her brother manage a smirk.
"Maybe I'll take out some things," he said as he crossed his arms, "but I am not going to count on staying here yet."
Meanwhile, Gavin raked a hoe across the small section of vegetable garden designated for carrots. He had shoveled a decent amount of compost into a yellow wheelbarrow and rolled it up to the plot of land with a shovel laid across the top. As soon as the soil was loosened several minutes later, he reached for the shovel and began scooping compost onto the square.
He sensed a pair of eyes on him again, and glanced over his shoulder to see the brown drapes in his children's room swing back into place. With a wry smile, he poured one last shovel of compost onto the earth and withdrew the seed packet from his back pocket. He smeared the dirt from his hands upon his jeans and ripped the packet open, dropping to his knees to draw shallow lines with his finger and sow the seeds with an eye on the lookout for chickens.
By the time the sun began to set, Gavin stood proudly in the middle of his vegetable garden with his hands on his hips, having sown all that was asked for the month and harvested all that was available. He then made sure that all his animals had water and enough to eat before ushering the chickens into their coop for the night and retrieving their eggs.
. . .
"Ethan and Abby," he knocked upon their door after showering the day's dirt away. There was not a sound to be heard, and when he went to open the door, he realized it was locked. He considered his options a moment and said, "I am making Shepherd's Pie and spiced apple cake."
He waited for a minute or two before striding down the hall and left into the kitchen. He seated himself at the table and stared ahead at the cabinets. The red and white checkered curtains that framed the small window over the sink behind him drifted in the evening breeze.
Eventually, he made the meal in silence and added a slice each to two plates. He set them outside the children's room and knocked upon the door. "I am leaving something for you to eat out here. You can take it in with you when I leave."
The same was done for the apple cake, which he spiced with cinnamon and spread with sweet apple butter. When he approached their door, he discovered two empty plates on the floor and smiled. "I have dessert for the two of you as well."
He settled the plates on the floor and returned to the kitchen to eat his own. Strange that he had lived alone for years, but knowing there were people some rooms away that chose to be alone made the house seem silent and lonesome. He shoved the idea from his mind, reminding himself that he was used to living alone and had never minded it before.
And yet, he was acutely aware of the profound silence that night as he stared into the darkness. His mind was consumed with anxiety about Poppy and what it must be like to surrender her children because one kidney was failing and sickening the other.
Father God, why does it have to come to be this way? I realize I asked to be a part of their lives, but why did it have to be because of this? Heal her and spare her from death, if it might be Your will.
He stirred so that he lay on his back, muscles leaden from the stress of the day. At that moment, the image of the shoebox leapt into his mind, and he realized he had not opened it. He reached to the side and brushed his hand against the night table. He slid his hand up the lamp and switched it on, throwing the covers aside so that he could stand and go through the door to his study.
There. The shoebox sat on his desk beneath the window, beside the Douglas fir ship in a bottle he had made when Poppy left him in the first place. The Lady Monarch.
He drew closer and lifted the lid, staring at the stacks of letters. When he unfolded the first one, he was met with the sight of her handwriting.
I can't even express how much I am going to miss the twins when they come to live with you. Abby has been such a dear to me, always wanting to read with me when she comes home from school. She sits beside me, with her head on my shoulder, listening so carefully to every word I say. And Ethan, the man of action. He is getting to be so good at sports. You'll see when you meet him, but he has a lot of strong will and determination. But he also knows right from wrong very well, and he will not stand the sight of injustice. I guess it's pointless for me to go ranting about all this, because you'll get to know them one day very soon. Always remind them how much I love them.
* "This is Home" by Switchfoot can be played at the beginning