Sequel to Winter's Light
Christian Rivers receives the phone call he has been dreading for six months. His father has died.
Flying home to Arizona with his husband Phillip, Christian arrives in Glendale to a family in chaos. Christian’s mother Lori struggles to go on without her husband. She collects lots of things to occupy her mind and pass the time. Her sleeping habits have changed, too, and she’s no longer able to stay in the same house without the man she loved.
To make matters worse, Christian finds his sister Paula in a life-and-death situation. In an attempt to escape the news of her father’s death, Paula turned to drugs, and Christian is the only one able to help her through this tumultuous time.
Fraught with his own demons, is Christian strong enough to solider on and battle the challenges awaiting him when he arrives home to say a final goodbye to the man he called Dad?
My mother’s one-story house was set a few feet from the street, enclosed in a fenced-in yard whose flowerbeds had seen better days. The charming landscape needed mowing and pruning and a facelift. The asphalt roof had been renovated since I last visited.
Paula drove into the garage cluttered with years of my mother’s compulsive collecting. Ceramic dishes. Wine glasses she’d never used. Porcelain, antique dolls. Books. Magazines.
Cardboard boxes were stacked to the ceiling, taped shut with miscellaneous possessions labeled “fragile.” Translation: Lori’s Property -- Do Not Touch!
Distressed, I stared at the heaping mess around me and cringed, closing my eyes, and wondering what I had come home to.
I got out of the car and helped my mother from the passenger seat, as Philip and Paula gathered the luggage.
Arm in arm, my mother and I walked to the front door. She led us across a tile floor to the grand north-facing family room with its exquisite fireplace set against a stone wall. The air-conditioning was welcome in the oppressive heat.
My mother asked me if I’d like a cold drink.
Something stronger. “Ice water is fine,” I said.
“There’s homemade lemonade in the fridge,” she said, heading down the airy, sun-kissed hallway. “I got up early and made it this morning.”
I stopped and looked around the remains of my childhood home. Late-night board games with Mom and Dad, pay-per-view cable wrestling events, weekend camp outs in the living room.
Sentimental. A lump-in-the-throat response. I smiled at the memories of the happy old days.
I heard Mom rustling around in a room down the hall.
The front door opened and Philip and Paula walked through it, talking, laughing, and breaking up my thoughts.
Philip put his hand on my shoulder, sliding up close to me, and kissing my cheek. “How are you doing?”
I shrugged. I could hear furniture being moved, glass breaking.
I pulled myself out of my husband’s embrace and ran to my mother.
The last door on the right: my childhood bedroom. “Mom, are you all right?”
“Fine, Chris. Come here. Help me move this dresser.”
I noticed a picture frame smashed to pieces on the floor by her feet. I went to her. “Be careful, Mom.” I bent down to pick up the broken frame, sliding out a picture of my dad and me: a fishing trip eight or nine years ago when life was fun, happier, better-off. He smiled back at me, holding up a seven-inch snapper. Gorgeous fish. I wanted to throw it back because it was so beautiful. I wanted to give it another chance.
I felt my mother’s eyes on me. “I’ll have to get a new frame,” she said, her voice sounding emotional, taut.
Philip and Paula stood in the doorway, silent as mourners.
I opened the top drawer of the dresser and slid the frame on top of Dad’s ties and socks. He always stored his belongings in selective places. Wherever there’s room, I heard his voice in my head.
“Where are we moving it?” I asked Mom.
“In the corner.” She grabbed the top corners, breathless, agitated, staring out into the backyard bristling with daylilies, dahlias, and poppies, lost in thought, her expression keen on a recent memory.
“Lori, let me help.” Philip walked to my mother’s side and stood next to her, placing a hand on her back. “I’ve got it.”
“Would you like a glass of lemonade, Phil?” she asked, her eyes lighting up, delighted.
Philip looked at me, smiled fleetingly, and turned to my mother. “I could use something cold. Thanks.”
“Be right back.” She left the room, brushing past Paula as if she were invisible, and meandered down the hall to the kitchen. Cupboard doors opened, closed; glasses clinked. The sound of the refrigerator alarm blared, notifying us that the door was ajar.
Philip and I wedged the heavy dresser against the back wall, kitty-corner.
“She’s gone out of her way to make the room look like it did when you were home,” Paula said from the doorway.
I turned to her. “It didn’t look like this when I came to see Dad last month.”
“She wants you to feel at home,” Paula said, leaning against the doorframe, arms folded across her skeletal chest.
I noticed that my sister’s appearance looked different since the last time we’d seen each other. Her dark hair was cut short, almost buzzed. Her ear piercings had grown in numbers. Her bottom lip was punctured with two pinky-sized rings on either side of her mouth. The outline of her drug-thin body was worrisome.
“How are you doing, sis?” I asked.
“Fine.” Blunt, tense, as if I hit a nerve. She pushed herself off the doorframe. “Why?”
I looked at Philip. My stern grimace told him I needed a moment with my sister.
He bowed his head and nodded, turning and walking out of the room. “If you need anything,” he said from the door, “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
I nodded and jammed my hands in my back pants pockets. I caught Paula’s troubled stare follow Philip out of the room. She turned to me and asked, “What’s going on?”
“According to you, nothing. But I know something’s wrong.”
“Dad’s gone. Of course something’s wrong.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
She shrugged. “What do you mean?”
“Me?” She shook her head, looked down at the floor, eyes shifty. “I don’t understand.”
I exhaled. “How are you feeling?”
She moved, seemed nervous, her feet shifting back and forth, left to right, as if she were learning a new dance. “Why do you keep asking me that?”
“I’m worried about you.”