Chapter ten – finale
Our first stop was the park. I figured Micah would like to play in the playground, and maybe I could find a cup of coffee somewhere before moving on.
The park was busy as always.
All of the benches were taking by families and couples on dates. Two people were arguing over who could take the seat in front of the chessboard. An old lady was patrolling in a circle around the swings, almost as to ward off any children, who paid her no mind and were playing with tiny cars and boats near the water.
I saw Micah look at the group of kids. She seemed unsure of what to do.
‘Hey, do you want a toy, or something?’ I asked, trying to be nice. ‘There’s a toy shop not far from here.’
Micah looked surprised for a second, but then smiled and nodded vigorously.
‘Good. Follow me.’
A five-minute walk later, we entered the store. It was empty except for the store clerk. Along the walls were rows and rows of toys lined up, waiting to be picked.
‘Go on, pick something,’ I said. ‘You can have anything from this wall.’
Micah nodded and bowed down towards the toys. She stretched her hand to pick one a few times, but then changed her mind again and continued looking.
It took so long that I was starting to get irritated. When another indecisive five seconds passed, I reached down in front of her and randomly grabbed something – a tin cow.
‘How about this?’
Her eyes grew a fraction bigger than usual. I didn’t wait for a response and pressed the toy into her hands, already walking towards the store clerk to pay for it.
‘Come on, Micah. We still have a long way to go.’
The drive to our destination took little over thirty minutes. (It was a miracle that I still had my car, really, with all of the unpaid bills you’d think that’s the first thing they’d go for.) Micah spent the time quietly playing with the cow. She even took it with her when we finally got out and headed into the mountains.
‘You don’t have to force yourself, you know,’ I said after a while, looking at the tin cow. Micah looked confused.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You would have preferred something more girl-like, right? Like that horse.’
Micah shook her head vigorously. ‘No, this is good. I like this.’
‘Well, I guess it’s fine if you’re happy with it,’ I said, with a small smile. ‘Let’s move on.’
It wasn’t long before we reached the lake. The scenery was exactly the same as five years ago. It was as if time had stopped since we left. A single breeze made the tree leaves rustle, but other than that it was completely silent.
Micah was looking at the bridge with admiration and excitement in her eyes.
‘Look, it’s so high up! Can we walk on the bridge, daddy? Can we?’
‘Aw, c’mon! We’ll be fine. If not, they wouldn’t have built it there in the first place.’
‘Let’s not do that. It’s an old bridge, it could be dangerous,’ I said. ‘But there’s a very nice field just across the water. Want to take a look?’
Well… I suppose time hadn’t really stopped here. In five years’ time, the pretty flower patches and bushes had turned into a big jungle of weeds. I was a bit disappointed, but Micah seemed to love what she saw.
‘Oh, wow! Can I play here, daddy? Can I?’
‘Sure. Knock yourself out.’
Micah cheered and ran into the fields right away, clutching the little tin cow in her fingers. I watched her run around and play for a while, after which I spotted a tree perfect to lie against.
It was so peaceful here it made me sleepy. Just closing my eyes for a few minutes… wouldn’t hurt… would it?
I groaned when I felt tiny hands pushing against my shoulder. I opened my eyes a millimetre and saw from the hair colour that Micah was standing next to me. The sun had already set all the way to the horizon… I must have fallen asleep.
‘Nnnnhh… what is it, Micah?’
‘I lost it.’
I blinked a few times to get rid of the state of half-asleep I was still in. It was only now that I saw how upset Micah was.
The girl looked like she was about to cry, so I quickly decided to help look. We spread out and both searched one side of the field, but…
‘It’s nowhere to be found,’ I said after fifteen minutes of fruitless searching. ‘You only played in this area, right?’
‘That’s strange… you didn’t even cover that much ground. So why can’t we find it?’
I brushed the dirt from my hands and stood up.
‘Micah. Let’s give up. We’ll just buy a new one on the way back.’
She shook her head.
‘It can’t be helped if we can’t find it. We’ll get you a new toy instead, okay?’
‘But… I want that one.’
‘You’re so stubborn,’ I sighed. ‘Listen, I’ll walk around the pond and see if I can find it there anywhere, but either way we leave in ten minutes. You stay right here, okay? And don’t go near the water.’
She didn’t answer and continued to search between the plants instead. I rolled my eyes and turned around, walking away from her. Irritation rose up from inside of me. It was just a toy, what was she getting all upset for?
In a few minutes I’d walked all around the pond and the other side of the bridge. There was only one place left to check – the place I wanted to avoid the most today. I decided to run past, so my mind wouldn’t have time to torture me with memories, but it happened anyway.
That day… was one of the last with her.
‘Wyatt! Come sit with me, quick!’
‘What is it? Is something wrong?’
‘Just sit down with me, please. There’s something I need to show you.’
‘Give me your hand for a bit.’
‘I felt it! The baby! It kicked!’
I couldn’t help it. My legs moved on their own and before I knew it, I was standing right in front of the bench.
‘Natalia…’ I whispered. ‘You promised, didn’t you? That we would love each other forever… so why did you leave me? You were my only family…’
It was only then that I saw it.
It was shoved under the pillow of the bench, but in such a way that passers-by could see a glimpse of it. That note wasn’t here when we visited. Had someone decided to use the bench as a litterbox?
No. I wouldn’t allow it. Not this bench- not this memory.
I grabbed the note. It looked like it had been rained on many times and the edges were ragged. Turning it around, I was shocked to see that… it… it…
It had Natalia’s handwriting on it…
Do you remember, that first night you stayed in my room? We talked about family for the first time there. You said you didn’t care, but in my eyes, you looked so sad and lost. People can’t live without a family, Wyatt. They might survive, but they won’t live.
Please remember that you’ll always have a family. We are, our unborn baby and I. Even if we have a fight. Even if we grow old- even if I disappear. Because soon, there will be something only you can protect.
I love you, Wyatt. Even in death, I’ll still love you for a thousand years.”
Warm tears felt down my cheeks. Natalia… It had been here all this time, waiting for me to come back and read it. I missed her so much… but I had to forget. The pain would have been too much to bear otherwise- it was too much already. I couldn’t just forget and move on, even with Micah…
That’s when I remembered.
‘No. And I don’t want to. If they left me all by myself, they’re no parents of mine.’
The realisation hit me like a tidal wave. I left her on her own. I was a horrible person. Repeating the mistakes of my parents, even though I knew how incredibly much that hurt from my own childhood. How could I have thought that I no longer had a family? How could I have just ignored Micah? She’d been right there, always, for five whole years, and I hadn’t even tried to get to know her. How could I ever make this right?
‘It’s not too late…’
‘Wyatt…’ The sound was coming from the direction of the bridge.
I acted without giving it a second thought and followed the flow of the voice.
I almost had a heart attack. The little girl was sitting on the outer edge of the bridge, legs swaying a bit in the wind, looking down with a concentrated expression on her face. Great plumbob! If a single gust blew in her back, she would fall off!
‘MICAH! Don’t move, I’m coming!’
I ran across the bridge as fast as my legs could carry me. Horrible visions of Micah falling down and slowly sinking to the bottom of the lake forced their way into my mind and were replaced by Natalia slipping out of my fingers and falling, falling-
The wind grabbed my little girl. I saw her slide off the bridge incredibly slowly. Then that illusion faded and she fell down.
Just as she fell over, I grabbed the back of her shirt and violently pulled her back. My head slammed against one of the pillars and a ripping sound informed us that Micah’s pants got torn by the wood. The next moment we were both lying on the floor.
‘Ow…’ Micah groaned. ‘Daddy, that hurt…’
‘That’s my line,’ I said angrily, picking myself up from the ground. Micah slowly got up as well. ‘What on plumbob do you think you were doing, sitting on the edge like that?! I told you not to go on this bridge! You could have died!’
‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered. ‘I thought I could see it from up here…’
‘You… you’ve been searching all this time?’
It was that important to her. I didn’t understand. But I could try… I lowered myself a bit to look her in the eyes and softly began to speak.
‘Micah. We might not… be able to find your toy. It can’t be helped, and it’s not worth taking risks for. I won’t get angry that you lost it. So let’s buy a new one on the way back, okay?’
‘But… that’s the only one.’
I didn’t understand. What was she talking about?
‘There were plenty at the store, weren’t there?’
Micah fiddled with her shirt.
‘It’s the one you chose and bought for me,’ she muttered.
‘It’s the first thing… daddy gave me.’
I understood. I finally understood. All these years… even the past two days… I finally understood just what I had done. My knees stopped functioning and I slowly sank to the ground, trying my hardest to keep the tears from falling.
‘Micah… were you lonely?’
‘Yes,’ she muttered.
‘Did you have fun coming on this trip with me?’
I had so much to say to her, but I didn’t know where to start. Still on the ground and with my head facing downwards, I tried to form words again.
‘Say… Micah. Would it be all right… for me to stay with you? I’ve been such a bad daddy for so many years… but I’ll do my best for you from now on. So would it be all right to stay with you?’
‘Yes,’ Micah muttered. I slowly raised my head.
‘Yes. I want you to be.’
‘I see.’ A tiny smile appeared on my face.
‘But today I lost something important so I’m sad,’ she continued.
What is it?’
She faced downwards and placed her arms in front of her, almost as if to hold herself back.
‘Well… umm… Is it okay… not to hold it in anymore?’
‘Aunt Cathy said… places where it’s okay to cry…’
‘And in daddy’s arms.’
Holding back the tears was impossible. They flowed down my cheeks like a waterfall and my voice broke when I stretched out my arms to her and said:
‘Yes! Yes, come here- I’m so sorry, Micah…’
‘I’m so sorry… I’m sorry…’