The early afternoon. The tranquil silence of the local cemetery was disturbed by our arrival at the gates. Our footsteps made clattering sounds on the pavement and our bodies, some big and some small, cast moving shadows on the grey stone. Ethan was walking next to me, glancing looks to our behind, where two girls were whispering and pointing at things.
The toddler in my arms made a soft, giggling sound when a single butterfly flew by. He stretched out his tiny hands, trying to grab the creature, but it passed right through his fingers. The little boy giggled again.
‘That’s called a butterfly, Ivan.’
‘Bwutterfy?’ he repeated.
‘Yes, a butterfly.’
‘Why bwutterfy fy?’ Ivan’s twin asked loudly, wriggling in Ethan’s arms next to me. ‘Why they fy, dada?’
Our oldest girls picked that exact moment to burst out laughing and stormed past us, running towards the central statue.
‘TAG! You’re gonna be it!’ Ceci, our secondborn, yelled.
‘Whaaaaaat? You have to be it! I was it last time, that’s not faaaaaaiiiir!’
‘GIRLS!’ Ethan yelled, causing the two to stop what they were doing right away. They looked at him with guilty expressions in their golden eyes.
‘This is nót a playground! Pay some respect.’
I stopped walking as well and turned to face my husband.
‘I know,’ he said, lowering his voice. ‘Go on. I’ll watch them while you’re gone.’
I pat Ciel’s blonde hair and proceeded to put my other son down.
‘Now you be nice until I’m back, okay, sweetie?’
‘Pwetty butterfy,’ Ivan smiled.
‘That’s right. You should tell your sisters how pretty it was.’
I let go of him and he immediately crawled to Ceci, forgetting the butterfly and beginning a game of peek-a-boo with her. A small smile formed on my lips. I turned around and walked away, my hand supporting my ever-growing belly.
As it was still early, we were the only people present. The grass underneath my feet made small crisping sounds as I made my way towards the back of the cemetery, heading for the two gravestones by the bushes. They looked in good shape; someone must have cleaned them not long ago.
I kept walking until the gravestones were right In front of me. They looked just as new as they had looked all those years ago, save for the writing on the stones, which ever so slowly started to fade.
‘Hello, you two. It’s been a while, but this place is looking good as ever. I know you’re not actually here, but this is as close that I’m going to get… I know that now,’ I muttered, brushing a leaf off of my arm. ‘Remember how I said I’d take the children here this year?’
‘Well, Ethan and I- we talked about it, and we think they’re still a bit too young to be confronted with something like this. Especially the boys. We’ll bring them in all the way when they’re a bit older. Just a few more years.’
I turned away from my grandparents’ resting place and skimmed over to the one place I’d been avoiding ever since that fateful summer. My mother’s grave was lying peacefully in the clover patch, and this time there was no doubt that it had been maintained well. I knew dad still went over here every week, tending to the stone and laying down flowers.
‘Hello… mum. I’m sorry I haven’t come over at all these years.’
A single bird flew out of the tree above me, causing a few twigs to snap and fall down. I looked down at my mother’s gravestone for a long time, unsure what to do. Where would I start? How would I begin?
Eventually, my mouth opened and the words seemed to flow out on their own.
‘I know you aren’t able to hear me, but there’s so much to tell…’
‘Ethan and I… we got married. But you’d probably already guessed that. He asked me right after graduation, just like with you and dad. We had to wait a whole year before the ceremony, though, because Ethan was afraid he wouldn’t be able to support me if we rushed into anything. He’s a well-paid salary man now, though, and…well…’
‘I still remember the look on his face when I told him I was pregnant the first time around. You wouldn’t believe what he did, mum. It was six in the morning, and he still called everyone he knew out of bed to come and celebrate with us! And for the rest of the week, he announced that he was going to be a father to every single stranger that passed by. People must have thought he was crazy.’
‘And then the doctor told us there were two heartbeats inside of my belly instead of one and the whole process started all over again… we named them after grams and the old man – Cecilia Catherine Adams and Torinne Julia Adams. You should see them, mum, Ceci and Tori are so beautiful. I think they both take after you.’
‘Ciel and Ivan came unexpected, but we’re all so happy to have them with us. A house with four toddlers was the most exhausting thing I’ve gone through yet, but it’s been every bit as rewarding, especially when they said their first word.’
‘And now, I’m pregnant again,’ I said, rubbing my belly. ‘The doctors said it is a healthy baby girl. It took me a while to believe them, though. The way she’s bouncing around in there, it’s more like I have a little devil inside of me.’
I smiled and kneeled, brushing a little bit of dirt off mother’s grave.
‘I’ve lived… just as you two told me. I’ve found the one I loved, built up a life and created a family. I’ve moved on… But…’
My fingers stopped at the base of the grave and touched the cold stone, slowly caressing its rough surface.
‘But… Have I really done the right thing this time? Is doing nothing… Is it really… all right like this?
‘Mom?’ I whispered, getting up from the ground. That couldn’t… that wasn’t possible. I hadn’t seen one or had dreams ever since that summer. And yet… I knew it was her.
‘You’ve moved on… and so will I. I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.’
‘Thank you for not giving up on life… my daughter.’
Walking back through the cemetery, I saw my family still at the same place where I’d left them. Ceci and Ivan were engaged in a fiery battle of peek-a-boo, and Ethan was having a discussion with Tori about books.
‘But daddy, they’re really cheap right now! Please, please ,please, can I please have one?’
‘You’ve got a room full of books already, Tori,’ Ethan said.
‘But those are children’s books! They’re boring!’
‘We’ve talked about this, young lady, and you’re still too young for adult novels!’
‘Mummy!’ Ivan giggled, interrupting his game to look at me. ‘Mummy back!’
‘MO-OM!’ Tori yelled, running away from her daddy and towards me. ‘You said I could have a book for my birthday, and now daddy says I can’t have a book!’
‘Can we have a puppy for my birthday, mom, can we?’ Ceci added, jumping into the conversation. Both of them were now running towards me, stopping centimeters from my baby bump. Ethan stayed behind with the toddlers. He was looking at me, with a worried expression on his face.
‘Love, are you… all right?’ he asked cautiously. ‘I’m not sure if you were ready… maybe it was too early to come here?’
‘No, it’s what I needed,’ I smiled to him. ‘You wouldn’t have taken me here otherwise if you really thought I wasn’t ready, Ethan. You know that.’
A big load seemed to drop off of Ethan’s shoulders. His body eased up and a faint smile appeared on his lips, answering to mine.
‘Now what were you saying about your birthday, girls?’
‘Buvday!’ Ivan repeated, playing parrot.
‘Mum, mum, mum,’ Tori whined, drawing my attention. ‘There’s this book I really, really want, but daddy says I’m still too young for it, but I’m not! Can I have it? Pleaaaaaase?’
‘Can we have a puppy, mum?’ her sister added in. ‘Pleaaaaaaase?’
‘Now, now,’ I laughed, amused by their intensity. ‘I don’t know about another dog, but we can at least go to the bookstore and take a look at that book you want, hmm? Is that acceptable, darling?’
Ethan mumbled in himself for a while, after which he nodded shortly.
‘YEEEEEEESSS!’ the girls cheered. ‘Thank you, mummy! Thank you, daddy! Come on, come on, let’s go!’
My husband and I smiled at each other as they bolted past us, out of the graveyard. Ivan was already ahead of them, crawling as fast as he could to keep up. His twin brother started squirming in Ethan’s arms, yelling:
‘Down, down! I walk!’
‘Fine, you can walk. Stop squirming so I can put you down, Ciel.’
‘DOWN! DOWN, DADDY!’
I chuckled. Ethan was a great father, but his children seemed to get the best of him every once in a while.
‘It’s all right this way,’ I thought, following my beloved family outside. In my belly, my unborn daughter placed her tiny hands against my skin. I could feel her holding on to me while I was walking. She was about to greet the daylight. Little Raven would be loved by her daddy, and protected by her older brothers. And by me. I’d protect her, just like we protected our other children, so that they never had to go through the same loneliness I had to.
It was all right this way.
Because this was how it was supposed to be.